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Notes from a Poetry Festival for My Friend With The Crippled Dog

IV-14-0000

a man with my photo in the air
waits for me at the airport,
smiles at seeing me, shakes his hand,
trips over a suitcase
in the aisle, where there are more people
also waiting,

once in the man’s car
we talk about the weather
until we stop talking,
then the man explains to me
that there will be many poets from many places,
which always enriches
the citizens of that country
or of any other,
since the poets read their poems
in their languages and the citizens
hear the languages, then visualize
what those words say
until understanding them seems
the same as knowing with the ears
and the voice sometimes reciting
while gestures
or tones are placed along
the poems to annotate them


(i in my seat next to the man
imagine the poets arriving from their countries;
i know that the african that sings still hasn't arrived)

the man leaves me at the hotel
my room is not my room:
it has neighbours in front of it,
soon they will be observing me

i ask at the reception
where to eat:
two blocks down
they sell chicken

there still aren't any poets
but they begin appearing at night
we meet each other at the banquet

i ask them about their countries and their languages

in cars
they take us to a bar with music,
poetry's global existence is celebrated:
how much the people appreciate it,
how we should educate them,
glasses clink

i smoke at the exit with a local,
our interchange of facts is cordial,
he tells me about his democracy,
i tell him about mine,

the african that sings still hasn't arrived


IV-15-0000

in a clean bus
they transport the poets
down a narrow highway through coffee fields,
we will see an active volcano,
then a lake,
the guide tells us

upon our arrival the volcano is covered by clouds
but it appears clearly in the photo
that a tourist took an hour ago

descending we note that the lake is a lake

a poet writes in his notebook
a haiku,
he will read it tomorrow, he announces

at night they take us
back to the bar with music,
a poet talks about the guerrilla war,
how he was in a trench
liberating another small country,
how a bomb exploded on him,
damaged his brain,
how now he dances three days a week
to recover the clearest part of his head,
numbers and colours and memories,
another poet wants to participate,
in his country there has been a revolution,
right, left,
it doesn’t matter,
it was the people themselves

we the poets look at each other
we the poets know,
we have written:
we are ready

the african that sings still hasn’t arrived


IV-16-0000

almost at daybreak
they put us on another bus:
we are going to read poems in the provinces,
five minutes each
in front of the microphone,
there will be young people!

in the provinces
the poets from other countries
take turns photographing each other,
plazas and benches and old folks
sitting beneath the trees,
life as if nothing,
exclaims a poet,
another remarks: it must be written,
the contour of the instant,
they remember a verse
that does not endure with crows
amidst the snow

the auditorium has two entrances,
empty seats,
a reflectionless background curtain,
there is still not anyone here,
we the poets walk down the sidewalks,
a yellow dog
scratches itself in the corner

i think of my friend
with his crippled dog
that is a talisman
or that is what i think while i listen to
poems from other countries
in languages with sounds
that i don't know,
although i read the versions
on a screen:
simultaneous deserts
with invading troops,
eroticism dense in the sand,
the fraternity of the departed soul
between the sky and the skin,
according to this language,
but there are others, i read them,
they amaze me, my friend,
they have a real texture
of nations in fragments,
i convince myself,
i propose my cat guts
without any effect,
the poet with the notebook
recites his haiku about the lake
and the volcano with the clouds,
the public applauds,
the young people have learned
that day with the poets
about other countries and their languages
translated with lights
on the screen

at night they take
the bar's music away
a poet delivers the details
of the conspiracy at the borders,
how they want to sell us,
how they want to buy us,
what poetry is going to do,
demands, let's think of solutions,
injustice must be denounced,
let's write a communiqué
may it not be forgotten,
don't trample on our rights,
poetry must take charge,
i correct his slogans,
we toast,
they put us in cars

tomorrow the african that sings will arrive



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About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Poet:
Tedi López Mills
Translator:
David Shook
Original language:
Spanish (Mexico)
Issue:
2015 Number 1 - Scorched Glass

Original poem

About the authors

Tedi López Mills

TEDI LÓPEZ MILLS was born in Mexico City in 1959. She studied philosophy at the Mexican National University and literature at...

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Translator

David Shook

David Shook studied poetry and translation at Oxford. He lives in Los Angeles, where he edits Molossus and publishes Phoneme B...

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Notes from a Poetry Festival for My Friend With The Crippled Dog

In addition to her work as one of contemporary Mexico’s most critically esteemed poets and essayists, Tedi López Mills is herself a translator, of poets including Anne Carson and Gustaf Sobin. Translating a poet as competent in the target language as you are (actually, I often suspect Tedi speaks better English than I do) can be an intimidating task, but in our case it has proven fruitful, as Tedi’s experience as a poet-translator informs her understanding and appreciation of my endeavours to make her poems work in English.

If López Mills’ 2009 verse narrative Death on Rua Augusta, which won Mexico’s prestigious Xavier Villaurutia Prize, with its noir- inspired psycho-narrative propulsion, marked a seminal departure from her prioritization of traditional lyricism, her most recent book of poems, Friend with the Crippled Dog (Amigo del perro cojo), from which this series of poems was taken, forms something of a bridge between the two modes of writing. These five poems, which form one of the book’s several chapter-like sections, immediately struck me as appropriate for Modern Poetry in Translation and the London Book Fair’s showcase of Mexican literature. Unusually honest in their description, they don’t deny the artifice, boredom, and excess of the public literary life, but process that mundaneness with the poet’s ear for language and enough detachedness to allow for an ironic appreciation without a suffocating cynicism or despair. As the narrator imitates her fellows in questioning the African who sings (a character I’m pretty sure I’ve met at literary encounters of my own) I’ve done my best to imitate López Mills in English.

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Spring 2014

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